Kathasaritsagara (the Ocean of Story)

by Somadeva | 1924 | 1,023,469 words | ISBN-13: 9789350501351

This is the English translation of the Kathasaritsagara written by Somadeva around 1070. The principle story line revolves around prince Naravāhanadatta and his quest to become the emperor of the Vidhyādharas (‘celestial beings’). The work is one of the adoptations of the now lost Bṛhatkathā, a great Indian epic tale said to have been composed by ...


HONOUR to the vanquisher of obstacles,[1] round whose knees, when he is dancing at night, there winds a garland of stars, which appears as if it had fallen from the globes on his forehead!


163. Story of Mṛgāṅkadatta

Then, the story being ended, the delighted Mṛgāṅkadatta rose up from the middle of the path and set out again for Ujjayinī, for which he had long ago started in order to find Śaśāṅkavatī, with a party of eight, including himself, having recovered Vikramakeśarin, accompanied by Guṇākara, and Vimalabuddhi, and Vicitrakatha, and Bhīmaparākrama, and Pracaṇḍaśakti, and the Brāhman Śrutadhi, and he kept looking out for those of his companions separated from him by the curse of the Nāga whom he had not yet recovered.

And in course of time he reached a treeless desert, all the water in which had been dried up by the heat, and which was full of sand heated by the fierce blaze of the sun.

And as the prince was traversing it, he said to his ministers:

“Observe how long, terrible and difficult to cross is this great desert; for it has in it no refuge: it is pathless and abandoned by men, and the blaze of its fire of grief seems to ascend in these sandy mirages; its rough and dishevelled locks are represented by the dry, rustling blades of grass, and its thorns make it appear to have its hair standing on end through fear of the lions, tigers and other noisome beasts; and it laments in the cries of its deer exhausted by the heat and longing for water. So we must cross this terrible desert as quickly as we can.”

When Mṛgaṅkādatta had said this, he quickly crossed that desert with his ministers, who were afflicted with hunger and thirst. And he beheld in front of him a great lake filled with pellucid and cold water, looking like streams that had flowed down from the moon after it had been melted with the heat of the sun. It was so broad that it filled the whole horizon, and it looked like a jewel-mirror made by the Fortune of the three worlds, in order to behold in it the reflection of herself. That lake resembled the Mahābhārata, for in it the Dhārtarāṣṭras[2] were making a disturbance, and many Arjuna-trees were reflected[3]; and it was refreshing and sweet to the taste; it was like the churned sea of doom, for its precious fluid was drunk by the blue-necked jays that assembled near it,[4] and Viṣṇu might have resorted to it to find the Goddess of Beauty[5]: it resembled an earthly Pātāla, for its profound cool depths were never reached by the rays of the sun, and it was an unfailing receptacle of lotuses.[6]

And on the western shore of that lake the prince and his ministers saw a great and wonderful tree. Its numerous far-reaching boughs, agitated by the wind, appeared like arms, and the cloud-stream that clung to its head was like the Ganges, so that it resembled Śiva dancing. With its lofty top, that pierced the sky, it seemed to be standing erect out of curiosity to see the beauty of the garden of Nandana. It was adorned with fruit of heavenly flavour, that clung to its branches, and so it looked like the wishing-tree of heaven, with goblets of nectar suspended on it by the gods.

It waved its shoots like finger-tips, and seemed with the voices of its birds to say again and again:

“Let no one question me in any way!”[7]

While Prince Mṛgāṅkadatta was looking at that tree, his ministers, worn out with hunger and thirst, ran towards it, and the moment they saw those fruits on it, they climbed up to eat them, and immediately they lost their human form, and were all six suddenly turned into fruits. Then Mrigāṅkadatta was bewildered at not seeing those friends of his, and he called on every one of them there by name. But when they gave no answer, and could not be seen anywhere, the prince exclaimed in a voice agonised with despair: “Alas! I am undone!” and fell on the ground in a swoon. And the Brāhman Śrutadhi, who had not climbed up the tree, was the only one left at his side.

So the Brāhman Śrutadhi at once said to him by way of consolation:

“Why, my sovereign, do you lose your firmness, and despair, though you have learned wisdom? For it is the man who is not distracted in calamity that obtains prosperity. Did you not find those ministers, after they had been separated from you by the curse of the Nāga? In like manner shall you again recover them, and get back the others also, and moreover you shall soon be united with Śaśān-kavatī.”

When Śrutadhi said this to the prince, he answered him:

“How can this be? The truth is that all this train of events was arranged for our ruin by the Disposer. If it was not so arranged, how came the Vetāla to appear in the night and Bhīmaparākrama to do as he did, and how came it to pass that I heard about Śaśāṅkavatī through the conversation that took place between them, and that I set out from Ayodhyā to fetch her? How came it to pass also that we were all separated from one another in the Vindhya forest by the curse of the Nāga, and that some of us were in course of time reunited, and that this second separation has now taken place and with that the ruin of all my plans? It all tallies together, my friend. The fact is they have been devoured in that tree by a demon, and without them what is Śaśāṅkavatī to me, or what is my life worth to me? So away with delusions!”

When Mṛgāṅkadatta had said this, he rose up to throw himself into the lake out of sorrow, although Śrutadhi tried to prevent him.

At that moment a bodiless voice came from the air:

“My son, do not act rashly, for all will end well for thee. The god Gaṇeśa himself dwells in this tree, and he has been to-day insulted by thy ministers unwittingly.[8] For they, King, being pinched with hunger, climbed up into the tree in which he dwells, to pick its fruits, in a state of impurity, having neither rinsed their mouths nor washed their hands and feet; so the moment that they touched the fruits they became fruits themselves.

For Gaṇeśa inflicted on them this curse:

‘Let them become that on which their minds are fixed!’

Moreover, thy four other ministers, who, the moment they arrived here, climbed up the tree in the same way, were turned into fruits by the god. Therefore do you propitiate Gaṇeśa with ascetic practices, and by his favour thou shalt attain all thy objects.”

When Mṛgāṅkadatta had been thus addressed by the voice from the air, that seemed to rain nectar into his ears, hope again sprang up in his bosom, and he gave up all idea of suicide. So he bathed in the lake, and worshipped Gaṇeśa, who dwelt in that tree, without taking food, and joining his palms in an attitude of supplication praised him in the following words:

“Hail, thou elephant-faced lord, who art, as it were, worshipped by the earth, that with its plains, rocks and woods bows under the crushing weight of thy tumultuous dance! Hail, thou that hast the twin lotuses of thy feet worshipped by the three worlds, with the gods, Asuras and men that dwell in them; thou whose body is in shape like a pitcher for the abundant storing of various splendid successes! Hail, thou, the flame of whose might blazes forth like twelve fierce suns rising at once; thou that wast a premature day of doom to the race of the Daityas, whom Śiva, Viṣṇu, and Indra found hard to conquer! Hail, thou that wardest off calamity from thy votaries! Hail, thou that diffusest a blaze of flame with thy hand, while it glitters with thy mighty axe, that seems anxious to illuminate thee in sport! I fly for refuge to thee, Gaṇeśa, that wast worshipped even by Gaurī, in order that her husband might successfully accomplish his undertaking in the conquest of Tripura; honour to thee!”

When Mṛgāṅkadatta had in these words praised Gaṇeśa, he spent that night fasting, on a bed of kuśa grass under that tree. In the same way that prince spent eleven nights, being engaged in propitiating Gaṇeśa, the king of impediments; and Śrutadhi remained in attendance on him.

And on the night of the twelfth day Gaṇeśa said to him in a dream:

“My son, I am pleased with thee; thy ministers shall be released from their curse, and thou shalt recover them; and with them thou shalt go and win Śaśāṅkavatī in due course; and thou shalt return to thy own city, and rule the whole earth.”

After Mṛgāṅkadatta had been thus informed in a dream by the god Gaṇeśa, he woke up, when the night came to an end, and told Śrutadhi the vision that he had seen. Śrutadhi congratulated him on it; and then, in the morning, the prince bathed and worshipped Gaṇeśa, and proceeded to walk round the tree in which the god dwelt, with his right hand towards it,[9] and while he was thus engaged all his ten ministers came down from the tree, having been released from the form of fruits, and fell at his feet. Besides the six who were mentioned before, there were Vyāghrasena and Sthūlabāhu, and Meghabala, and the fourth, Dṛḍhamuṣṭi.

Then the prince, having recovered all those ministers at the same instance, with eye, with gestures,[10] and with voice agitated by the workings of joy, looked at his ministers, one by one, again and again, exceedingly lovingly, and embraced them, and then spoke to them; having successfully attained his object. And they, beholding with tears in their eyes their master, who, after the asceticism which he had gone through, was slender as a new moon, and having been told the true explanation of the whole by Śrutadhi, felicitated themselves on having truly a protecting lord.

Then Mṛgāṅkadatta, having attained good hope of accomplishing his enterprise, joyfully broke his fast with those ministers, who had performed all necessary ablutions in the tank.

Footnotes and references:


Gaṇeśa, who is represented with the head of an elephant. In śl. 8 I read, with the Sanskrit College MS., vibhrashtapaṭhā.


This word means “the sons of Dhṛtarāṣṭra,” and also “geese with black legs and bills.”


This also means “in which Arjuna was displaying great activity.”


There is also an allusion to Śiva’s having drunk the poison that was produced by the Churning of the Ocean.


There is an allusion to Viṣṇu’s having obtained Lakṣmī from the ocean when churned. The passage may also mean that the beauty of the lake was permanent.


This expression also means that “it rested on the head of the serpent Ananta”: which was true of Pātāla or Hades.


Instead of B.’s prākṣīd iti read sprākṣīd, with the D. text, “Let no one touch me in any way!” See Speyer, op. cit., p. 138.—n.m.p.


Another unintentional injury. See p. 92n1, and Vol. II, p. 147n1.—n.m.p.


See Vol. I, pp. 190-193.—n.m.p.


The Petersburg lexicographers read kalanayā for kalatayā. The three verbs correspond to the three nouns.——Speyer (op. cit., p. 139), however, considers pramadamanthanārambha also corrupt. He would translate the passage as follows:

“Then the prince, having recovered all those ministers at the same instance, looked at them with his eyes, embraced them with impetuousness and then spoke to them with a faltering voice, owing to the emotion of his exceeding love; so he saluted them one by one, again and again, happy by his success.”


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